a spotters guide to mountain bike groups.
Finding new routes for rad rides is pretty simple nowadays. You have standardised signs and symbols that give empirical evidence to inform your choices. Elevation can be calculated. Distance can be measured. Headcam footage absorbed. Bleep boop beep. There you go. You have a pretty accurate estimation of what to expect from your new ride before you’ve even rolled out of the garage. However, figuring out what to expect from the new group you’ve found in some dark corner of the internet is not always such a predictable experience.
I’ve moved around the country a lot and my bike always follows. However, it’s always been difficult to find a group that suits my riding needs. This often leaves me feeling a little lost out on the trails. There are only so many introspective solo rides you can deal with before you think ‘I’m going to have to speak to some strangers on the internet’… Sadly these online yelps of desperation have not always resulted in a fully warrantied box of friends being delivered to my door. They have, though, given me a good knowledge of the mountain bike group language. I’ll share this knowledge with you now via some handy translations. Slogans converted into expectation-busting truth-speak because, as with many personal ads, no one can resist a bit of embellishment or selective self-editing.
‘Generic All-Terrain Cycling Club – Off-road enthusiasts who enjoy exploring the great outdoors on mountain bikes.’ At first glance, this group seems like it would ideally meet your mountain bike needs. However, the subtle use of ‘all-terrain’ and ‘great outdoors’ implies that rigid bikes and army surplus clothing will be the real theme of the group. All routes will be plotted around medieval ley lines and disused pits. Surprisingly, although they are likely to all be over 60 years old and travel at a mellow pace, the ride will be 87 miles long.
‘Small Town Singletrackers – Local group who love flying around local singletrack. Look for Trevor at the Travellers Rest at 9am every Sunday.’ This points toward a group of rad dads who have managed to gather 400 members in a Facebook group. In spite of this, only three of them ride on a regular basis. You turn up to the ride and give Trevor a horror movie-level freak-out by knowing his name. On closer inspection of the forum pages, you realise the group has not been active for five years and Trevor has forgotten about even starting it. Which explains his earlier scare. The two thousand dodgy-looking ‘for sale’ listings and lack of riding posts should have alerted you. Up your game, forum-browsing Padawan.
‘New Age Enduro Crew – An enthusiastic group of Enduro riders who enjoy big descents and technical riding only. We’re all about searching out the best stages in the area and training for race season.’ This group oozes commitment and a desire for top-level performance. The effort levels are there – it can be seen in the detail with which they describe the grip tape addition to their XTR shifters. Unfortunately, the translator output isn’t positive and reads: ‘We want rewards of endless ribbons of thrilling singletrack descents with a minimal outlay of effort to get them. We haven’t entered any races yet, but we know which tyres we will be running when we do.’
Finally we have: ‘Social Simon’s Sunday Squad. We like to take life on the bike at a slower pace, reflect on the beauty of nature’s trails and share snacks with sympathetic riders. Meet outside Jimmy’s Wholefoods at 11am.’ Now Simon’s squad seems friendly, but there are a few red flags to watch out for. A more accurate interpretation might read as follows: ‘We appreciate personal reflection time, so often turn up to rides ten minutes later than agreed to give you this space. I always share riding snacks, and I anticipate that you will share your new bike and those trails you built. Most importantly though, I’ll be there as a sympathetic and understanding riding buddy – if you get a puncture, I understand that you will want me to wait in the café and warm your seat up.’
These translations will, to some extent, help you choose the right group for you. They also highlight my own level of cynicism and fussiness when it comes to finding a group to ride with. Experience has taught me that all groups have different ideas to what constitutes ‘good mountain biking’, but they all share common traits of being welcoming and friendly. Even spooked-out Trevor came around eventually. By all means, question if a group is right for you, but you will never know until you try. Besides, until home-cloning kits become readily available, it will be tough to find a ride with a group of people exactly like you.